Stop Thinking of PLM as Software

This is part 2 of a 5-part series called Turning Data Into Insights. This blog series explores best practices relating to the product lifecycle management approach, and how these best practices will help drive Industry 4.0. 

Many thought leaders predict that product lifecycle management (PLM) will play a critical role in the continued development and ultimate delivery of the latest industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0. I agree, as long as we consider PLM as an approach, not a software tool. The problem is – too many companies have fallen into a fallacy that PLM is simply software. They believe they can harness the benefits of integrated product lifecycle management by investing in PLM software.

This is not the case. In theory, the PLM philosophy follows a product from design through manufacturing, usage, and into retirement. Throughout the lifecycle, sensors and customer insights would feed product improvements in addition to continuous R&D and engineering efforts. In practice, PLM software primarily supports the product development stage rather than the entire enterprise. Companies that look beyond PLM software and leverage multiple tools realize the true benefits of the PLM approach and ultimately Industry 4.0. In order to understand how PLM will impact Industry 4.0, we need to take a deep dive into PLM.

A Primer on the PLM Approach

At its core, PLM is a product development and management approach. It leverages interconnected tools and processes to provide increased awareness of a product’s evolution. Providing a little more context, Purdue University’s Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence states:

“Product lifecycle management is a methodology for product development, production, and sustainment in which information technology tools and processes allow a company increased access to digital product definition data to make better business decisions (2016).”

Too many companies have fallen into a fallacy that PLM is simply software. They believe they can harness the benefits of integrated product lifecycle management by investing in PLM software.

For a more detailed explanation of product lifecycle management, read my blog How Industry 4.0 will Revolutionize Manufacturing.

PLM Software Provides Accessibility and Product Consistency

Since its introduction in the 1980s, PLM software has evolved into a valuable solution. However, there is a long way to go before the software can address the full product lifecycle. The inherent gaps in today’s PLM software solutions prevent companies from making significant progress towards Industry 4.0. That being said, today’s PLM software tools have provided the manufacturing industry two significant and pivotal benefits: accessibility and consistency. This is made possible through three features:

1. Linking CAD and BOM components

PLM software aligns CAD to a Bill of Materials (BOM). In short, a BOM is a product part list including part usage, part quantities, and references to specifications and requirements. The integration of CAD and BOM has delivered labor, quality, and cost savings.

2. Enhanced version control and accountability

As products get more complex, supporting documentation to support the master definition also scales. Stakeholders need to understand compatibility, constraints, and effectivity. With increased documentation comes data synchronization, document management, and version control. Many companies require some form of design history file for tracking purposes.

Effective document management within the PLM tool creates avenues for version control and accountability. Document management enables users to store information centrally and assign identifying elements to ensure compatibility. As a result, organizations can:

  • Understand part usage
  • Search part and BOM history
  • Easily find and trust the master definition
  • Create, track, revise, and align documents–including CAD data, spreadsheets, and technical drawings

3. Data Synchronization

Dozens of individuals simultaneously work on different components associated with a product within the PLM software tool at any given time. Today’s PLM software solutions allow for users to check out the most up-to-date documentation. Stakeholders know that document modification is controlled, and ensures that they are consistently accessing the correct and most recent data.

The Problem with PLM Software

This accessibility and consistency provides clear benefits for engineering teams. Linked data, version control, and data synchronization ensure clarity across the different groups who have permissions and access to the PLM. However, the benefits of PLM software diminish outside of product design, instead of providing value across an enterprise. This was certainly not the vision or intent of the PLM approach.

As a result, organizations are missing out on enormous cost savings, efficiencies, and optimized products, feeding into a plethora of issues:

  • Restricting PLM advantages to one aspect of the organization
  • A disjointed, scattered company culture
  • Complicated workarounds that jeopardize IP and version control
  • Incompatible collaboration capabilities

The benefits of PLM software diminish outside of product design, instead of providing value across an enterprise. This was certainly not the vision or intent of the PLM approach.

Until organizations begin to view PLM more holistically, they won’t be able to take full advantage of what PLM can offer. In the next blog, I will continue to address the challenges of PLM software and highlight the efficiencies that manufacturing organizations are missing.

References

Data Synchronization / PLM. (2006, January 1). Retrieved from Consumer Goods Technology: https://consumergoods.com/data-synchronizationplm

Purdue University, Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence. (2016). What is PLM? Retrieved from: https://polytechnic.purdue.edu/product-lifecycle-management/what-plm

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